Visa fees for Myanmar students quadruple under Trump’s revised ‘Muslim ban’

US president Donald Trump signs “a new executive order that will keep the nation safe” on March 6, 2017. Photo: Twitter / Sean Spicer

The cost of a visa for a Myanmar student to study in the United States will nearly quadruple next week following a review carried out by the US embassy in Yangon in compliance with President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13780, known as “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.”

President Trump has described the executive order, issued in March, as a “watered down, politically correct version” of a previous executive order with the same name that was blocked by various courts and publicly condemned for being a “Muslim ban.”

In addition to restricting visits by people from eight countries, Executive Order 13780 also requires visa agreements between the United States and other countries to be “truly reciprocal” in terms of fees and validity periods.

Under this provision, starting April 9, the cost of a 12-month visa for a Myanmar student in the United States will jump from US$160 to $600, or from $640 to $2,400 over the course of a four-year degree program.

Several Myanmar students and their classmates have spoken out against the price hike, saying it places an unfair burden on an already struggling group of people.

“I get that the US doesn’t like the Burmese government or foreign workers, but I don’t get why the State Department chooses to target students instead,” wrote Bucknell University student William Kyaw in a Facebook post this morning, shortly after the new policy was announced. “Studying abroad is already a huge commitment, physically, mentally, and financially, for international students in the United States.”

One commenter agreed: “It’s always the students. We have minimum rights, we do no harm, and we can’t fight back.”

The embassy’s announcement of the fee hike insists that Myanmar is not being singled out, saying: “The Department of State is applying the same criteria to all countries worldwide in reviewing their visa schedules and determining whether discrepancies exist.”

However, critics point out that the embassy’s overtures of reciprocity fail to take basic inequalities between the United States and Myanmar into account.

“The State Department claimed it is due to reciprocal treatment,” writes Kyaw in the same Facebook post. “I have yet to meet an American student who ‘studied abroad’ in Burma at a Burmese university. This is just outright bullying by going after the most vulnerable group: students.”

The announcement does not mention the title of the executive order on which the fee hikes are founded or the fact that it is the same decree that bans entire nationalities from entry into the United States.

Nonetheless, one commenter has already identified the visa fee hikes as cause for solidarity with those banned nationalities, writing: “Start protesting outside the embassy. We could learn a thing or two from the Iranians.”

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